On October 1, 2014, I downloaded the NPR One app. I can’t really remember how I found it, but it’s changed the way I listen to radio.
In 2004, I had just moved to the United States and wanted to try out this new-fangled thing iTunes was promoting called “podcasts.” Number one on the “Most Popular Podcasts” list was This American Life.
“Huh!” I thought. “I just moved to America, this could be a good podcast for me.”
The podcast wasn’t anything I expected, but I loved it. I had never heard this type of incredible storytelling on Singaporean radio. I started listening to TAL on my runs, and then slowly expanded to shows like Planet Money, Radiolab, and Freakonomics.
Over the next 10 years, I listened to podcasts regularly, but never local radio. Because who has an actual radio these days? And, I don’t have a car. And it wasn’t a radio-listening habit I had, just a podcast one.
When I downloaded NPR One for the first time, it asked me to pick my “local station,” and I didn’t know what to do. Because snooty Boston has two, I didn’t know which one to go with. In a split-second decision I chose WBUR because my friend works there, and I had dinner with her colleagues once (they seemed very nice).
The app then started playing a few minutes of national news, then local news (from WBUR), then a mix of national stories, local stories, and podcasts I liked. If I didn’t like a story, it would only be a few minutes long, or I could skip it. But over time, I pretty much liked everything I heard.
This is what the app looks like, if you’ve never seen it:
I’m sure all of you have experienced this before: you’re cutting chicken and your hands are all chicken-y but your podcast ends. So then you try to “elbow” or “wrist” your phone into playing the next podcast, for fear of getting some weird chicken disease all over your phone.
THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN WITH NPR ONE! It’s just a (somewhat) curated stream of awesomeness! YOU CAN KEEP COOKING!
Over the last two years, NPR One has become a daily habit. My morning starts with NPR One, and in the same format every day. A few minutes of national news, then local news, then a mix of news stories while I’m making breakfast.
I travel a ton, so this sort of daily consistency is really important in my life. It helps keep me connected to local Boston news even when I’m far away. And my NPR One morning starts the same way every day, no matter what timezone I’m in.
Because of this, I feel more connected to my local radio station than ever before. I now recognize the names of my WBUR hosts. Hello, Jeremy Hobson! Thanks for the news, Bob Oakes! And NPR hosts, too: I always love science stories by Shankar Vedantam.
There’s been a ton of news about the NPR One app lately: it can no longer be promoted on-air, has been including more local content, and is a/b testing content. I don’t really know what the future of the app will be, especially with all the politics behind the scenes.
But, for now, I’m a happy listener hoping that the awesome NPR One radio I’ve been enjoying continues on.
More reading: My favorite podcasts of 2015.